Bacchae & Antigone
Sophocles and Euripides have provoked audiences for centuries to question what constitutes Justice’. Watching the various events onstage, spectators are led to ask If a deflective form of Justice exists In these plays, or whether notions of justice In a world such as mankind’s are absurd. Furthermore, by presenting cases where ‘Justice’ is claimed to be enacted by a character or force (generally the gods), the playwrights encourage speculation as to whether the punishments delivered are reasonable.
In this essay I intend, through an analysis of the two works (focusing specially on the characters Croon and Antigen), to emphasis how both playwrights address scalar themes and concerns on the subject, yet arrive at deferent conclusions. Sophocles’ Antigen concludes on a note of hope, demonstrating some belief in the existence of a definitive, at least partially rational (if mysterious) system of Justice and punishment. Conversely, Euripides’ The Beach is deliberately shaped so that what is emphasizes is the possible conclusion that life contains an ultimately ‘absurd’ quality.
This essay is by no means an attempt to provide a summation of either author’s final perspectives on the topics of Justice and enmeshment, but rather an examination of how each playwright has attempted
Through Antigen’s principal characters Antigen and Croon, Sophocles presents apparently conflicting notions of ‘justice’. Both maintain differing views on what constitutes justice, and via them Sophocles’ Juxtaposes the values of ‘polis’ with those of ‘natural’ law. However, we must not conclude that this is a simple binary opposition; though Antigen’s family orientation is one that appears resolutely at odds with Screen’s ship of state, In fact the duty observed to one’s family Is an Integral part of the Greek concept of ‘polls’.
Edith Hall observed that “a Greek citizens family life was a component of his political identity. One’s private conduct was seen as indicative of the manner one would exert political power, (Hall, p. 04). This principle is still true today. The two are not separate, and therefore there is the potential for the two to co-exist if both exhibit degrees of adaptability. From the beginning, Antigen’s desire to bury a dead brother provokes sympathy and paying duty to the dead consolidates the authority of her position.
Antigen’s opening dialogue with Kinsmen stresses that her actions are an observance of divine will: “l will lie with the one I love and loved by him / an outrage sacred to the gods… Do as you like, dishonor the laws / the gods hold in honor” (p. 63)1. In addition, Antigen’s actions seem to be mysteriously touched by the divine. The Sentry two separate accounts of how Policies’ body has been covered have explicit elements of the mysterious: Suddenly, a whirlwind!
Twisting a great dust-storm up from the earth, A black plague of the heavens, filling the plain, Ripping the leaves off every tree in sight, Choking the air and the sky. We squinted hard And took our whipping from the gods. And after the storm passed – it seemed endless – There, we saw the girl! (P. 80) Antigen maintains that the observance of ‘Justice’ according to the gods as her main season for defying Screen’s ‘law, specifically the edict he delivers in his first entrance.
And still you had the gall to break the law? Croon: Antigen: Of course I did. It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least, Who made this proclamation – not to me. Nor did that Justice, dwelling with the gods Beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men. Nor did I think your edict had such force That you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, The great unwritten, unshakable traditions. (P . 82) Antigen’s opponent doesn’t initially reject the importance of what the gods desire in determining definitions of Justice either.
Most especially in his opening speeches that are full of political rhetoric, Croon presents himself as a defender of civilization, the one thing that (as the chorus emphasizes p. 76) sets man apart from beasts. This original position is never discredited, and indeed the Chorus issue a hymn to man’s invention. When the question is first posed by the Chorus that it might be the gods will to bury Policies, he defends his position by claiming some form of divine authority for himself: You say – why it’s intolerable – say the gods Could have the slightest concern for that corpse…
Exactly when did you last see the gods Celebrating traitors? Inconceivable! (P. 73) Both claim authority for their points of view from divinity, yet we acknowledge a difference between the two. While Antigen’s claims seem to have some evidence (especially in the Sentry account), Screen’s drawing on religion is a careful and deliberate use of rhetoric. He gradually shows his true intentions differ from what is originally suggested in his opening speech, and so we become increasingly suspicious of his motives.
Despite maintaining that his role was to act in the interests of the ‘polis’, Screen’s tyranny soon emerges. The constant threats to the Sentry and the Chorus illustrate that he is a man more than willing to go to any extreme to achieve his own aims. Similarly, he is willing to condemn Kinsmen along with her sister, and he even appears conscious of his own hypocrisy when he decides not to argue with Antigen about whether he truly represents the state’s opinion, instead choosing to turn the matter into an issue of loyalty. Antigen: Lucky tyrants – the perquisites of power!
Ruthless power to do and say whatever pleases them. You are alone, of all the people in Thebes, See things that way. Antigen: They see it Just that way But defer to you and keep their tongues in leash. Aren’t you ashamed to differ from them? So disloyal. (P. 84) Sophocles carefully presents Croon as a character who is willing to enforce and maintain his own authority through violence and fear. Under the pretence of civilized ‘Justice’, he is willing to persecute any perceivable threat to his position, arguably exhibiting a state of extreme paranoia.
His accusations that Kinsmen and Antigen are both aiming to supplant him on the throne (p. 86), combined with his vicious attack on Terrifies when he advises the king to desist are all examples off guru who places his own position as King before his responsibilities to the State. The altercation with Terrifies is especially striking because of its rapidity: within a hundred lines the prophet has turned from he whom Croon admits “his debt to” to one of many that has “tried to sell me short / and ship me off for years” (p. 112).
In the second half of the play, the tyranny of Screen’s reign as King, his real disregard for the principles of fair government in a State, are exposed when he refuses to acknowledge the wishes of the entire city. Hammond argues fiercely with his father, ND Sophocles exposes Screen’s true state of mind. Hammond: I’d never suggest that you admire treason. City of Thebes denies it, to a man. And is Thebes about to tell me how to rule? Ah, now you see. Who’s talking like a child? Am I to rule this land for others – or myself! It is no city at all, owned by one man alone.
What! The city is the king – that’s the law! What a splendid king you’d make of a desert island – You and you alone. (P. 97) Hansom’s perspective is one that a contemporary audience could relate to, including as it does democratic ideas: while a state must have a ruler, they and the law/’Justice’ hey enforce must be sensitive to public will. Any ambiguity concerning Screen’s public position on how a person should act is removed by recollecting a statement he makes when first confronting Antigen: “the stiffest stubborn wills / fall the hardest…
There’s no room for pride” (p. 83). This is a passage that seems to support the concept of subordinating an individuals desires for the good of the state. Yet this, along with the very first image he presents in his address to the Chorus (that of carefully guiding the “ship of state” through turmoil), are all shown to be merely hypocritical, a pretence for his own megalomania. This is the important fact to remember about Croon: that he himself misrepresents the values he really holds in public.
Though he claims to offer a ‘guiding’ hand and seems to acknowledge the importance of flexibility, in his altercation with Hammond he is clearly displaying symptoms of the very pride he accuses Antigen of exhibiting. Terrifies himself explicitly warns Croon what the proper attitude should be, having already drawn attention to the bad omens which suggest his actions have contravened the gods desires: “All men make mistakes, it is only human. But once the wrong is done, a man can turn his back on folly, misfortune too, if he tries to make amends… Stubbornness / brands you for stupidity – pride is a crime! (p. 112). To leave no doubt that Screen’s personal interpretation of the law for his own ends is fundamentally wrong, Sophocles ensures that he receives punishment in the most absolute form. The triple suicide of Antigen, Hammond, and Eurydice, combined with the latter pair’s complete rejection of him, leave Croon a broken man. The divine laws concerning blood-right, burial and pride have been so explicitly contravened as o trigger a crushing punishment from which he will never recover: “Whatever I touch goes wrong – once more / a crushing fate’s come down upon my head! ” (p. 127).
Through Terrifies, Sophocles suggests some form of reconciliation between the two views: civilization through observance of the authority of the State is highly important, but its laws must be adaptable and sensitive to the wish of the gods if rightful ‘Justice’ is to be maintained. Rather than being fixed, ‘civic Justice’ must be fluid so it is able to adapt to various situations. Screen’s fault, the reason why he is unwished, is to do with his own thirst for power, the valuing of his own pride over the principles of the polis and the apparent wishes of the divine. His mistakes are her motivation and her true feelings.
Antigen’s procrastination of blood over State concerns is both humane and condoned by the gods, but it is still ambiguous for a number of reasons. Firstly, Antigen herself acts in a paradoxical manner towards her siblings, maintaining as she does the observance of her duty to Policies whilst simultaneously rejecting Kinsmen’s attempts at reconciliation. Having initially preprinted her sister for hesitating, Antigen seems to reject Kinsmen partly because she is seen to be encroaching on her ‘honor’, warning “don’t let claim to what you never touched / My death will be enough” (p. 7). This may be a tactic to remove a sister from danger, but the rejection of Kinsmen is still a striking and somewhat ambiguous moment in the play. There is almost the sense that Antigen, anxious to free herself from her damned lineage and the subsequent isolation it has inflicted upon her, is actually becoming attracted to the idea of becoming a martyr for true Justice: Chorus: You have passed beyond human daring and come at last Into a place of stone where Justice sits. I cannot tell What shape of your father’s guilt appears in this.
Antigen: You have touched it at last… I have been a stranger in my own land. (P. 102) Here, a new motive for Antigen’s actions beside the observance of divine law is provided. As she nears her death, so these become more explicit. As well as observing religious duty, the constant references to the underworld betray what is almost a longing for escape to Hades. Antigen’s actions seem motivated more by her tartar need to love than by concepts of religious duty, the underworld offering as it does unification with her dead family.
Death offers the personal rather than religious incentive of escape from the curse and subsequent disadvantages of her family lineage, for “once the gods have rocked a house to its foundations/the ruin will never cease, cresting on and on/from one generation on throughout the race”. It is her insistence that she would not have done the same for a dead husband or child purely because they (unlike a brother) are replaceable, that reveals her motivations o be more orientated around her family than religious duty. She “has done the right thing for the wrong reasons” (Elliot, pop).
It is her nature “to Join in love, not hate”, and this, not religion, has been the primary source of her motivation. When Antigen is last onstage, there is little suggestion of any deep-felt inner faith that the gods support her; the isolation she feels in the final scene is substantial. Her requests for pity, her belief that the Chorus mock her, illustrate that there are still strong elements of uncertainty within her: What law of the mighty gods have I transgressed? Whom to call, what comrades now? Just think, My reverence only brands me for irreverence!
Very well: if this is the pleasure of the gods. (P. 106) Though she feels her actions are Justifiable, her state of isolation is undeniable, and so she has (unsurprisingly) great difficulty in rectifying the two facts. Though the ‘unjust’ punishment is inflicted by the similarly ‘unjust’ Croon, the god’s don’t ever provide support nor attempt to intervene and rectify the situation. That Antigen is allowed to be ‘punished’ by Croon illustrates the difficulty in pinning down any divine notion of Justice that may exist.
Just as the deaths of Eurydice and Hammond are unjust (except as part of Screen’s punishment), so Sophocles’ deliberately chooses not to try and provide a definitive answer. What is certain is that the laws of the gods, however difficult to discern they may be, punish pride in man. When his opinion is challenged, man must try to put aside any potential loss of face it may cost him. There is here at least a trace of some form of hope, a suggestion that there is a creditable way of co-existing with the gods: Wisdom is by far the greatest part of Joy, And reverence towards the gods must be safeguarded.
The mighty words of the proud are paid in full With mighty blow of fate, and at long last Those blows will teach us wisdom. (P. 128) Euripides’ The Beach portrays another character subject to pride in Penthouse, whose name means sorrow. Like Croon, he is the ruler who governs through violence and threats, always seeking to reassert his own authority. His pretence, like Screen’s is one of ‘civic order’: he sees the Beach festivities as a direct threat to his governing of the land.
But he is unwilling to listen to the entreaties of both Cadmium and Terrifies that preach caution as the best method. Penthouse, Just like Croon, is exposed as being a tyrannical ruler, and equally as pride orientated. As the latter dismissed Terrifies’ suggestions until it was too late, so Penthouse dismisses the prophets’ advice that Mimi rely on force; but it is not force that governs human affairs” (p. 201). Terrifies explains that Wisdom’ dictates observing Dionysus’ ritual, explaining this would be a shrewd move, avoiding any grounds for blame.
Just like Penthouse himself, “the god is glad to receive honor” and considering his power it would be petty to deny him it. Instead, Penthouse exhibits his own willfulness, his unbridled pride, continually. Like Croon, when it comes to matters concerning his own power, he refuses to back down for any reason, and this is his downfall. In Antigen, respect of the gods’ will is synonymous with wisdom, and the same is suggested here. Therefore, it is not in the least surprising that Penthouse is punished for this complete disregard of men’s duty to the gods. Justice cannot be assumed to mean the same thing. In Antigen the will of the gods is associated with Justice and punishment, but strictly in terms of the laws of the divine. In The Beach the god is actually presented onstage. In Sophocles’ play, what the gods may have done is only reported; their mysteriousness is metaphoric for the unknown fates of men waiting around the corner. By contrast, Dionysus is an active participant standing on the stage; yet he also appears completely amoral.
What is most disturbing about Dionysus is that he exhibits Just as much pride and vanity as Penthouse whom we condemn. At first he claims his presence is to affirm his lineage from Zeus and reassert himself as a legitimate god, for Penthouse “is a fighter against gods, defies me, excludes me from libations, never names me in prayers. Therefore I ill demonstrate to him, and to all Thebes, that I am a god” (p. 193). In doing this, he exhibits a more playful, malicious quality, openly enjoying toying with human lives.
The punishment of Penthouse is designed by Dionysus to be a glorious example to other men how to observe the reputation of the gods: having him publicly feminism’ and then torn limb from limb by his own mother is a lesson designed to go down in history. But rather than providing a sense of final order (that Penthouse’ pride offset the equilibrium of the state and after his death it has been restored), Euripides emphasizes the cruelty of the god himself. The futures handed out to Agave and Cadmium, although given explanations, appear a distinctly unfair. In Cadmium’ case, he is consigned too terrible fate it is arguable he deserves.
Euripides emphasizes this by making the Chorus, who have supported Dionysus through the play, reflect that: “l grieve for your fate, Cadmium; though your grandson’s death / Was Justly merited, it falls cruelly on you” (p. 240). As the statesman fugue, Cadmium has propagated Wisdom’ in the conventional sense (ii. Respecting the gods’ will continually) throughout the play. From the beginning he has encouraged a secure policy which awards against disaster; his first exchange with Penthouse shows him encouraging the king to pay courtesy to Dionysus, whether he believes in the god or not: Don’t stray beyond pious tradition; live with us.
Similar essay: “How is Antigone a Foil to Creon. Foil Characters in Antigone”
Your wits have flown to the winds, your sense it foolishness. Even if, as you say, Dionysus is no god, Let him have your acknowledgement; lie royally, That Seems may get honor as having borne a god, And credit come to us and all our family. (P. 202) The Chorus echo these sentiments (p. 204/223 especially), and therefore the harsh punishment inflicted on Cadmium makes discerning distinct concepts of Justice almost impossible. Firstly, while Cadmium’ reasoning may show a more calculating than moral attitude, it is still an example of much celebrated Wisdom’ in action, demonstrating clear sensitivity to a divine will.
But as the Chorus reminds us (lines What is wisdom? What prayer should we call wise? What gift of heaven should man Count a more noble prize, A prayer more prudent, than To stretch a conquering arm Over the fallen crest Of those who wished us harm? (P. 224) As Rosemary suggests, “Wisdom equals tyranny, beauty equals vengeance… The dispensation of natural law, and the survival of the strongest” (p. 78). Dionysus’ actions of Justice and punishment are therefore related to his own law, the ‘natural’ law of the Beach that focuses on the unrestricted, rather than the rules of the polis.
Terrifies and Cadmium, in willingly embracing Dionysus from the beginning in an act of Wisdom’, simultaneously distance themselves from civilized notions of justice. Cadmium’ earlier reasoning to Penthouse sited above shows that demonstrating subservience to an individual fugue is more important than the truth – and this is by extension a peculiar endorsement of divine tyranny. In Euripides, the vine is never associated with ultimate notions of Justice: indeed, at the close of The Beach, “Cadmium, pleading for pardon, speaks of a moral world to which the gods are blind” (p. 1, Velocity). Euripides, rather than attempting to propose that a source of definitive moral Justice is possibly resident in a divine ‘other’, is more concerned with dramatist’s the contradicting desires within man for order and freedom. Without veering too far from our original subject, it is fair to suggest that the playwright here is using the fugue of a god as much to say something about man’s own psychology as about any evince being. Through the Juxtaposition of two extremes in Penthouse and Dionysus, he is demonstrating how law and freedom must be blended in some way.
Penthouse embodies law in its extreme, to the extent where it compromises all civil freedom due to its fear of it becoming uncontrollable. Freedom, when taken to (the Bacchius) extreme, “proves to be a god with all the incalculable, terrifying and unforgiving properties of divinity’ (p. 23, Velocity). Therefore, it is left open whether a viable compromise between freedom and law is possible, a prospect that echoes the same lemma Sophocles presents us with in Antigen. Considering Cadmium’ all too willing subservience, the punishment Dionysus subsequently inflicts on him is unjustly severe.
When Cadmium protests that the gods standard of conduct should rise above mankind’s (p. 243), Dionysus even attempts abdicating responsibility by excusing his vindictiveness, claiming it is fate rather than himself that is responsible for these punishments; yet through the course of the play it is obvious he himself has been improvising events as he went along. He is openly exhilarated by the demonstration of his own power (e. G. He destruction of the forms of Justice. The punishment of Penthouse, like that of Croon, is understandable because of the explicit hubris exhibited by the character.
These demonstrations of justice and punishment are understandable and their logic is reassuring. But the punishment of Cadmium, like that of Antigen, is less easy to explain. Like Antigen, Cadmium’ true motives for observing the laws of the gods may be questionable, but this is never explicitly associated with the reason for his punishment. The characters’ stories rather demonstrate the potential for the unexpected or unfair in man’s life, ND both Sophocles and Euripides partly infer an explanation by attributing this to the workings of fate’, which are in turn related to their respective lineage (being members of ‘cursed’ family lines).
Just as today, in a world where many don’t believe in a god, we are constantly in search for the meaning, the logic to life, so the concept of fate too Greek audience offers a possible answer. But by actually portraying a god, a representative of the mysterious ‘other’, as a petty, vindictive figure who ends his actions by using fate’ as a convenient excuse for his own success, Euripides underlines the potentially absurd aspect of human existence. When comparing the conduct of Penthouse with Dionysus, it is tempting to label the latter a blatant hypocrite rather than any force of Justice.
Sophocles’ work demonstrates a lesson being learnt, one that is reiterated by the Chorus and so offers an almost cathartic experience that recommends a specific way to acting, maintaining the possibility of a ‘moral’ universe where notions of Justice and punishment could still be comprehensible; even if we don’t quite know what to do, we know what not to do. By contrast, Euripides’ Chorus concludes on a note of muted bemusement, acknowledging the gods power but unable to come up with any defining ‘moral’.